Not that you needed pitchFX to tell you that Phil Hughes wasn’t on his game yesterday afternoon, but I wanted to take a quick look at the numbers to see if there was anything at all to be gleaned from his outing. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a disappointing outing, because it certainly was, but it should also go without saying that all of the usual caveats apply here — it was the first outing of the season, he’s still building up arm strength, etc. No one should be jumping off bridges after anyone’s first start of the year.
The other critical caveat is that there continues to be a significant disconnect between Brooks’ data and Gameday’s data. I’m presenting the below Brooks chart because it’s the only place I know of that carries linear weights, but you’ll have to take the data with a fairly significant grain of salt, because I’m really not sure which one is “more” accurate.
I went back and tracked the Gameday info, and found the following discrepancies: Gameday somehow only had Hughes throwing seven four-seamers all game (and not a single one after the second inning), a whopping 62 cutters, 18 curveballs and three changeups. I’m going to assume that a good deal of those cutters were misclassified, and that the above Brooks data is probably closer to what actually went down.
According to Brooks’ data, Hughes’ four-seamer, despite sitting at around 89mph, was actually highly effective, registering -1.8322 linear weights. However, his cutter (if we are to take the Brooks chart at face value) got obliterated in this game, to the tune of 3.2413 linear weights, which means that he actually had a worse cutter yesterday than in any of his 29 regular season starts in 2010 (last season his cutter’s worst linear weights value came on June 2 at Baltimore — 2.5488).
Here are Hughes’ pitch averages from 2010:
I’m not even going to bother getting into the weeds with horizontal and vertical break given that he’s still working on his velocity; however, if we take the Brooks data at face value, it’s no surprise Phil’s cutter got demolished yesterday, as the average speed recorded by Brooks (83.5) was down a full five miles per hour from 2010. Now I know we’ve got pitch classification issues we’re dealing with here, but I find it extremely baffling that Hughes would keep going back to the cutter as frequently as he did (according to Gameday he essentially threw nothing but cutters in innings 3 and 4) if he basically had nothing on it.
Presumably once Hughes finds the missing 3mph on his fastball, his cutter will jump up as well, although that still doesn’t really explain why there was ostensibly a six-mph gap between the two pitches yesterday and a 4-mph gap in 2010. Again, I know we have some spotty data, but I did also watch the game and eyewitnessed several 82-83mph cutters, which Gameday recorded as well. Although Gameday also has several cutters up in the 90-91 range, and so again, clearly there are some flaws in the pitch classification algorithm.
Hughes also continued to frustrate the Yankee faithful with his continued inability to finish batters off with two strikes (you may recall that Hughes led the American League last season in Foul Ball Strikes Percentage — 34% — by a fairly wide margin), and by my count the Tigers racked up 13 two-strike fouls, with Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez and Don Kelly leading the way with three apiece. Unfortunately B-Ref doesn’t carry statistical information on two-strike fouls, but tallying 13 two-strike fouls among 57 total strikes thrown seems like an absurdly high percentage (23%), at least compared to the last time I looked at two-strike foul data. For comparison’s sake, in that post I looked at the Rangers’ two-strike prowess in the ALCS, and found that in Game 1 they had 13 two-strike fouls out of 104 total strikes seen, or 12.5%. And those 13 two-strike fouls in ALCS Game 1 were compiled over an entire game, not a four-inning start.
In any event, if there’s a takeaway it’s that yes, Hughes has some velocity to recover, but it doesn’t seem like a worrisome issue — he’s not going to be throwing 83mph cutters all year. Of slightly greater concern was the flat curve, but I don’t think anyone would’ve expected Hughes to have a top-notch curve yesterday, especially after struggling with it for most of last season. Of greatest concern is probably the two-strike foul madness, but again, once the velocity jumps back up this should be a correctable issue as well.
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